The Giver Summary and Analysis
by Lois Lowry
After the Ceremony, Jonas feels lonely and senses that people have begun to think of him differently. Even Asher and the other new Twelves hesitate before they address him, and the joking around seems uncertain. Dinner is quiet for the most part, although Lily chatters about how she will begin volunteering at the Nurturing Center tomorrow, since she has learned a lot from Gabriel, although she recalls that she is not supposed to know his name. Jonas's parents tell him that being The Receiver is the most important post in the community, even more important than the job of making Assignments. They remember the Ceremony of Twelve for the previous Receiver, but her name has been banned from use, which is the highest disgrace for a name. They say that they do not know what happened to her, but his mother tells him that Jonas has been greatly honored.
Before he goes to bed, Jonas opens his folder of instructions, which contains only one sheet of paper. The sheet informs him that as The Receiver of Memory in training, he should go directly from school to the Annex behind the House of the Old each day and then head directly home after Training Hours. It also exempts him from rules regarding rudeness and allows him to ask any question of anyone and expect a truthful answer. However, it prohibits him from discussing his training with anyone, telling his dreams, asking for any medication related to his training, and applying for release. Finally, it tells him that he is allowed to lie.
Jonas mulls over his peculiar instructions, realizing that he will no longer have much time for having fun with friends. He decides that he probably will not choose to be rude, since that goes against everything he has been taught, and he is not upset about being exempt from dream telling since he rarely has or remembers dreams to tell. He wonders what kind of pain he will have to face in his training without any medication. He then considers the final rule, which goes against all that he has been taught about language precision and the avoidance of exaggeration, such as using the word "starving" rather than "hungry." He wonders if all adults are allowed to lie, but he cannot confirm what the others have been told.
Jonas parts from Fiona at the House of the Old, and she expresses nervousness about her new role. Jonas walks into the Annex behind the House, where an Attendant unlocks a door and allows him to enter, explaining that the locks are to ensure his privacy. The Receiver's living space is slightly more luxurious than usual and features thousands of books, which is unlike his household, which only has a dictionary, a volume describing everything in the community, and the Book of Rules. Puzzled, Jonas wonders what kinds of rules and descriptions could fill up that many books.
The Receiver welcomes Jonas as The Receiver of Memory, telling Jonas that he has been The Receiver for a long time, although he is less old than he looks, and that it will require his remaining strength to train Jonas. He invites Jonas to ask him questions, but Jonas does not respond, so he explains that his task is to transmit his memories of the past to Jonas, who does not understand why it is so important that The Receiver tell him his memories. The Receiver then reveals that his memories are those of the whole world, including previous generations and those from Elsewhere outside of the community. Experiencing the memories gives him wisdom but weighs on him terribly; it is like riding downhill on a sled, which becomes harder as it goes, with the speed and exhilaration fading while the snow accumulates on the runners and slows it down. Realizing that Jonas does not understand the meaning of terms such as snow, sled, runners, and downhill, he tells Jonas to take off his tunic. He turns the speaker off, which astonishes Jonas since no one else has that ability, and he places his hands on Jonas's back to transmit the memory of snow.
After a moment of feeling nothing, Jonas shivers and realizes that the air is frigid, while he can no longer feel the Receiver's hands on his back. For the first time, he experiences snow, and while part of him is still in the Annex, another part of him is sitting on a sled on top of a hill. Although he has never seen a hill before, he instinctively knows its name, and as he speeds downhill, he is delighted by the sensation. At the end of the ride, the sled slows, and although he pushes to make the sled plow through the snow that has built up, eventually he finds that he must stop. Opening his eyes, Jonas finds himself back on the bed in the Annex.
Jonas says he feels surprised by the experience, while The Receiver feels a little relieved to have the tiny weight of the memory off his mind. Jonas feels bad at having taken such a lovely memory away from him, but The Receiver explains that he has many more. Jonas expresses a willingness to experience it again, but the old man is about to turn away to different experiences until Jonas asks how long ago the memory was and why the things in the memory no longer exist. He learns that the memory is from the distant past and that Climate Control and landscape adjustments got rid of snow and hills in order to make transportation and agriculture easier. Now, instead, the community has Sameness, which both Jonas and the old man regret. To be The Receiver is to be honored, but they do not have the power or influence to restore things from Sameness to the way they were.
As a second memory, the old man gives Jonas a pleasant memory of sunshine, although he does not give Jonas the word for it and allows the memory to speak for itself. Jonas understands immediately that this is another concept before Sameness and Climate Control, which pleases the old man since it shows Jonas's intelligence. Before Jonas leaves, he asks why the Chief Elder warned him about pain. In response, the man says that he learned from his failure, but Jonas says that he is brave, so the old man returns to the memory of sunshine but adds the memory of sunburn, the pain of which prevents Jonas from picking up on the word. Jonas thanks him for the interesting experience and says he understands better about the concept of pain, to which the man does not respond. Before he returns home, he asks what to call the old man, since Jonas is now The Receiver, and the old man, looking exhausted, tells Jonas to call him The Giver.
Jonas learns almost immediately after the Ceremony of Twelve that the loneliness and sense of apartness predicted during the Ceremony will go beyond his training as the Receiver of Memory and enter all aspects of his life. This deeply unsettles him because he has always obediently remained a member of the group during his childhood years, and to go against years of training to be part of the community is difficult for him. Even Asher, who comes to represent the larger community in his interactions with Jonas, treats Jonas differently, realizing that Jonas has somehow been set apart by his post. Jonas has been greatly honored, but to be honored is to be separated.
The strangest aspect of the aftermath of the Ceremony lies in Jonas's peculiar list of instructions, which seems to allow Jonas to break those rules that are most important to the community, such as not being rude, telling his dreams, and in particular not lying. The last rule upsets Jonas, who has been taught to use precise language and to act honestly, so that he will not have opportunities to mislead or prevaricate. This exemption causes Jonas to wonder if all adults are given such rules that allow them to lie, but he can come to no conclusion. This new doubt induced by the rules foreshadows a later revelation of a case in which adults in their training are told to lie.
Further unsettling elements remain about the position of Receiver. Remembering that the Chief Elder mentioned a previous Receiver-in-Training who had failed around ten years ago, Jonas asks for more information from his parents. They in turn reveal very little, but their obvious discomfort suggests that the failure of the previous Receiver is somehow of great significance to the community. Not being allowed to speak her name suggests great shame about her. In addition, the rules prohibit Jonas from applying for release, which again brings up the specter of release that has remained an important unanswered question in the text.
After Jonas arrives for his first training session, he learns that he is to receive the memories of his entire society so that the other members of his community do not have to bear them. Through these memories and the old Receiver's explanations, Jonas begins to learn the things that are missing in his society, which range from innocuous objects such as hills to the joys of sledding in the snow and sunshine. Jonas has never experienced anything as exciting as sledding down a hill, which indicates the level of unoriginality in his life--and virtually everyone's. He also has never experienced anything as painful as sunburn, which shows the extent to which the community has tried to avoid anything resembling pain in people's lives.
For the first time, the novel begins to explicitly discuss and weigh the relative values of Sameness and individuality. As the old man notes, society initially gave up hills and snow in favor of Sameness and Climate Control because the change made life easier and more secure, but Jonas realizes that the subsequent loss of excitement and pleasure may not have been worth the trade. The explanation also for the first time firmly places Jonas's society in the distant future, at some point after the ideals of Sameness and collective security took precedence over joy and individuality.
Getting bogged down in the snow is an important metaphor for the troubles associated with being loaded down with the world's memories. At first, receiving memories has the prospect of excitement, but they soon weigh down The Receiver and impede his progress. If this is an apt metaphor, we can see a reason why the society wants to avoid them but not eliminate them entirely, presumably because these troubles are meaningful and useful despite the pain they involve. The many books in the Annex also represent the stored knowledge and memories of humanity, which apparently are kept just in case they will be needed. This last set of remnants of memory and a different way in the civilization provide a sense of hope that there may still be some small chance of restoring what was lost when the society chose stultifying, riskless Sameness.
The Giver Essays and Related Content
- The Giver: Major Themes
- The Giver: Questions
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- Lois Lowry: Biography
- The Giver Summary
- About The Giver
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Quotes and Analysis
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 1-2
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 3-4
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 5-6
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7-8
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 9-11
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 12-13
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 14-15
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 16-17
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 18-20
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 21-23
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- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
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- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
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